THE WEALTH OF NOTIONS: Evaluating the impact of innovative teaching tools on students' performance. A methodological proposal and a case study for comparing students' and professors' evaluation of Economics teaching at the University of Turin and the University of Zaragoza
Aree / Gruppi di ricerca
Partecipanti al progetto
Descrizione del progetto
Economics disipline has been recently criticized for a variety of reasons, among which are troublesome events of the first two decades of the 21st Century: the 2008-9 financial crisis, the Brexit vote in the UK, the rise of populism across western democracies, and more recently, the Covid 19 pandemic and the Russia- Ukraine war. The economics profession could not give effective warnings of impending financial disasters or provide quick solutions to the problems that have arisen. It is not a surprise that many reflections on the state of economics following such events have highlighted concerns about how economics is taught. Many criticisms long pre-date these specific events, and the main concerns have remained the same since the early 2000s (Coyle, 2022). One concern is that the education of economists has been too narrow and insular, often leaving students ill-prepared to confront complex 'real-world' problems. A second concern is that economics students receive too little grounding in reasoning based on observations and evidence, or in other words, inductive approaches. Economics teaching is still based on strong theoretical foundations and logical reasoning from specific assumptions. The elegance of this deductive reasoning is compounded by the tendency to dismiss inductive approaches as ad hoc. This has contributed to an education that gives short shrift to the inductive aspects of learning from assiduous observation and careful use of data and fails to instill in students a critical, questioning approach to the assumptions made by economics. This lack of attention to reasoning from evidence has been accompanied by a superficial approach to questions of causality (Leape, 2012). More recent Covid-19 pandemic and the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war in 2022 have represented unprecedented shocks for the world economy. After that, the gap between real-world problems and the economics being taught to students at all levels has become a chasm unbridgeable chasm and made it questionable if economics students were "fit for purpose."
Discussions among economists (Krugman, 2006; Cochrane, 2009, Coyle 2012) about what aspects of the conventional approach might have contributed to the profession's blinkers were accompanied by requests from student groups (like the 'International Students Initiative for Pluralism in Economics' (ISIPE) and 'Rethinking Economics') for a revision of theories and methods taught in universities. Tackling the new challenges arising from the complexity of the current state of the world requires a deep comprehension of the economy. Economics teachers should take the chance to bring real-world back into the classroom and expose students to other disciplinary perspectives. Economic thinking influences even those who do not become economists, and university teachings should prepare students for their future roles in society. It requires open minds that can look at issues from various perspectives. The knowledge of various approaches with different methodologies, assumptions, units of analysis, and outcomes should provide a better understanding of the economy and its issues. Economics students must think critically to select the tools most relevant to the context and problem (Coyle, 2012, 2022). In Keynes's words (1924), economic teaching should educate young economists to become broad intellectuals, not narrow technicians; and, we add, economists should develop at the same time practical, not only abstract thinking.
The teaching innovation project The Wealth of Notions propose a step forward in this direction. The project aims at creating a new communication channel to disseminate notions of the history of economic thought to improve students' understanding and contextualization of contemporary economic reality, theory, and policy. It will apply a constructivist approach to learning: the history of economic thought will be taught by building on the experience students make of economics as taught in universities. This process results in active and engaged learning that stimulates critical thinking. The research focuses on teaching the history of economic thought as it can provide students with an overview of the larger structure of the economic system; it shows how ideas in economics may clash, how schools of thought compete, and how politics, power, and personalities play a large role in determining winners. Students can understand what lies behind alternative economic ideas and debates, developing critical thinking and learning to make their autonomous judgments as economists.
The project, primarily directed to students in the fourth year of the Degree in Economics (Univ. of Zaragoza) and the third year of the Laurea in Economia e Statistica per le Organizzazioni (Univ. of Turin), has a threefold aim:
- Work package 1: Design a survey and deliver it to students and teachers of the Italian and Spanish Universities for evaluating economics teaching.
- Work package 2: Develop and test innovative teaching tools by creating an Instagram account that allows students of the History of Economic Thought courses from both universities to interact and actively review the contents seen in class and disseminate the knowledge generated through the publication of training content. According to Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2022, Instagram is the fourth most used social platform in the world, after Facebook, Youtube, and Whatsapp. It is the second most downloaded app in the world, 1.47 billion people use Instagram every month, and people aged 18-34 are its primary audience (60% of users). It is the favorite social platform of Generation Z (16-24 years).
- Work package 3: Test the impact of these teaching methodologies. Create open-access teaching tools (Instagram profile, a blog, and a dedicated web page) to encourage the supply of courses that offer a pluralistic perspective.